Adding Depth in Paper Models

The most basic way to increase the overall depth is to increase the number of bases. Instead of working with one flat base beyond the entire paper model, use several layers of bases. For example, if you’re building a road vary the number of chipboard pieces underneath different sections to raise and lower it. In many cases an opportunity for layers naturally presents itself.

One of the best examples is town or city blocks. Sidewalks and building foundations are almost always raised slightly from street level. (Rural areas are an exception to the rule.) It’s easy to make a city or town scene “pop” just by adding an extra layer of foam board or wood underneath the area with the sidewalks and buildings. This lowers the street level and simulates curbs. You’ll want to wrap the sidewalk/building layer with a concrete or similar pattern to provide a color base. This ensures all the edges or curb areas are covered.

When planning or working with your layout, keep an eye out for other areas that naturally lend themselves to different levels. Water is another natural choice since most bodies of water sit lower than the surrounding land. Again, just adding a extra layer of foam board, Styrofoam or wood can make all the difference. Here are some other opportunities for layers:

  • Gravel pits
  • Maintenance inspection areas
  • Swimming pools
  • Parking lots
  • Sports fields
  • Station areas
  • Construction sites

If you’re building a rock retaining wall, deliberately vary the thickness of the wall or the overall shape. An even more advanced technique is to vary the thickness of the base under individual rows or sections. You can cut a piece of rock wall printed paper into several strips that correspond to the rows of rock. Mount these strips onto bases of varying thicknesses. One easy way to do this is to use chipboard and creating different thicknesses by using more than one layer of chipboard. After you’ve mounted all the individual strips, mount each strip onto a master base to hold the entire pattern.

You can use a simulate strategy with roofing such as shingles or metal sheets. Instead of just mounting the whole page to the base, cut the page into strips along the shingles or metal strips. Start at the bottom of the roof and glue one strip at a time, positioning the next strip so that it slightly overlaps the previous strip. This creates an effect that looks similar to real shingle or roof panels. In this case you do not even need to vary the thickness; the overlap itself is enough to create the affect.

Buildings and structures also lend themselves to layering in several ways. Interiors are the most obvious. The easiest way to assemble a building is to either use windows that are pre-printed on the design on simply glue windows on top of the paper sides. However, you can create a more layered affect by cutting out all the windows and using set back interiors.  On the most basic level you can cut out the windows and glue them underneath the paper rather than on top of the paper.

Another alternative is to cut out all the glass areas from the windows and replace these areas with clear cellophane or a similar material. This strategy also allows you to add lighting to the building. (Note that this strategy will not work with a solid base such as a Styrofoam block.) You can also add blinds or curtains over all or parts of the windows. Depending on the building you will need to add some type of material or at least make sure the inside of the building is covered in a dark neutral color.

 You can take things a step further using a detailed interior and placing that interior slightly set back inside the building. The amount the interior should be set back is relative the building’s position on the layout. The closer to the edge, the further you need to set back the interior to create the right affect. Buildings in the rear of the layout need only a slight setback to create the layered affect. The best approach is to assemble the entire outside structure of the building and then test the visual affect of placing the interior at different positions within the building.

Building trim pieces also present opportunities for depth. If your building has columns, you can cut out the columns you cut out the columns, mount them on a base material and then glue that base to the front or side of the building. You can also create a three dimensional column by gluing four column sides together. Some manufacturers such as Scenery Sheets provide architectural detail sheets with elements like columns. If you’re working with a downloadable model, print the model multiple times to get the additional columns.

You can do this with just about any piece of building trim including columns, railings, steps, brackets, etc. These strategies also work with vestibules and steps. Cut these elements out of the model and then mount them to their own bases before re-attaching them to the building front or side. An alternative to cutting the elements out is to use two or more copies of the model. Use the first model as template for arranging the elements in the correct places and the second model as a source for the trim pieces. In most cases you can purchase two copies of a paper building for less than the cost of one plastic model.